Open Education Week: Exploring Open Textbooks #OEWeek #OER

“Brigham Young University faculty survey seeks to advance open education through academic libraries” flickr photo by opensourceway shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

This week has been OER Week so it seems an ideal time to be talking about Open Textbooks. This guest post is by Suzanne Tatham, Academic Services Manager (Library).

First of all, what is an OER? Here is the Creative Commons definition:

“Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning, and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.”

A quick trawl of Twitter’s #oerweek will give you a flavour of the types of OER activity that are taking place in universities and other interested parties across the globe.

OERs are not new to the University of Sussex. Prof Lucy Robinson worked with the University of Sussex Library and the Mass Observation Archive to launch the Jisc-funded Observing the 80s in 2013, an OER that brought together voices from Mass Observation and the British Library Oral History Collections.

In this short video, Tim Seal of the OER SCORE Project discusses the benefits of Open Educational practice. He gives advice on how to license, create, publish, remix and redistribute Open Education.

YouTube Preview Image

A lingering concern around OERs is highlighted with the recent attention given to them by commercial publishers who have introduced open resources alongside proprietary material.  Inside Higher Ed have written an enlightening Guide to Good OER Stewardship, advocating the CARE Framework to encourage the following:

  • ‘Contribute’ via financial or in-kind contributions to ‘advance the awareness, improvement, and distribution of OER.’
  • ‘Attribute’ by making sure that those who create or remix OER are ‘properly and clearly credited’ for their contributions.
  • ‘Release’ by ensuring that OER can be shared and used outside the platform in which it is was created or delivered.
  • ‘Empower’ by striving to make OER meet the needs of all learners, and supporting the participation of diverse voices in OER creation and adoption.

That said, within this OER landscape, open textbooks have been gaining popularity. Open textbooks are written by academics and shared using open copyright licences such as Creative Commons. These licences allow authors to share their textbooks. They also grant permission for anyone to access and reuse the textbook. They reduce the “hidden costs” of university study by replacing expensive textbooks with free ones. For the tutor, they present opportunities to adapt the content to suit their particular teaching needs. The open licences enable you to mix and match, so you can actually create your own book using chapters from different open textbooks.

Sourcing good quality academic open textbooks

The following sites have large collections of open textbooks, available for you to use in your teaching and link to from your online reading lists:

For updates on news about open textbooks, follow @UKOpenTextbooks on Twitter.

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A short guide to Team-Based Learning

The Technology Enhanced Learning team have recently been exploring and promoting Team-based learning. A teaching approach which is effective for providing students with opportunities for deeper learning and is scalable for large group teaching.

Larry Michaelson, a Professor of Management, who helped to establish the Team-based learning (or TBL) approach in the 1970’s explains that:

The primary learning objective in TBL is to go beyond simply covering content and focus on ensuring that students have the opportunity to practice using course concepts to solve problems. Thus, TBL is designed to provide students with both conceptual and procedural knowledge. – Larry Michaelsen (2008)

Team-based learning uses constructivist teaching methods to carefully scaffold learning so that students are given the opportunity to memorize basic knowledge and then to further develop understanding and application through cooperative and collaborative learning activities.

The format of TBL can be considered as a flipped learning approach, where knowledge transmission takes place before class and face-to-face sessions are used for active learning. A topic or unit of content is typically covered over a few sessions based on the following structure of activities:

Team-based learning: the sequence of activities (click to enlarge)

  1. Preparation: students are assigned material to study independently. This should cover all of the basic information required for the proceeding classes.
  2. Readiness Assurance Process:
    • Students individually complete a multiple choice test to assess understanding of the material and formulate answers.
    • The same test is then repeated, only this time students work in small teams to answer the questions. This provides the opportunity for students to develop their understanding through discussion and comparison of responses.
    • Tests typically use the Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique to maximise the potential for discussion, critique and learning from the questions.
    • Groups are invited to submit appeals (supported by evidence) if they disagree with questions or answers.
    • The tutor goes through all of the answers with the class, provides feedback and clarifies any misunderstandings.
  3. Application exercises: the following class builds on prior learning as teams work to develop solutions to significant problems through a series of application exercises. The 4S framework provides a useful guide for designing such activities.
  4. Peer evaluation: students are accountable to their team-mates in TBL and are asked to provide each other with constructive feedback on their contributions through peer evaluation.

Tab Betts from Technology Enhanced Learning recently interviewed Dr Simon Tweddell, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Bradford, National Teaching Fellow and consultant for Team-based learning, to tell us more about this teaching approach. You can listen to this episode from the Teaching with Tech podcast below or watch on Youtube.

Has this approach been used at Sussex?

We are aware of a few members of staff who have been using Team-based learning and we have been working to share this practice across the university.

The Pharmacy department has been using this approach since 2016 for integrated teaching sessions, they also have a dedicated Team-based learning room and presented on this topic during the Sussex Annual Teaching and Learning conference (2017). You can find out more about their practice in the Creative Approaches to Active Learning episode of the Teaching with Tech podcast. Alison Bailey (Teaching Fellow in Management) has also used this approach in her teaching and recently co-taught on the ‘Team-based Learning’ workshop with myself and Tab Betts as part of the TEL staff development programme.

Photo from the Technology Enhanced Learning ‘Team-based learning’ workshop

Which subjects is this approach suitable for?

Team-based learning is used across a broad range of disciplines and should be applicable for most subjects. It is scalable to work for different size classes and there are many case studies and examples of this being used successfully for both small and large group teaching. The underlying pedagogy of this approach is student-centred and aligns the sequence of learning activities close to the different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, rather than using any form of discipline-specific teaching methods. Whilst this format makes significant use of multiple choice tests, a common misconception is that this form of assessment is only suitable for rote learning of facts. However, Team-based learning questions often work on the basis of a ‘best’ answer using the Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique and awarding different point values for each possible answer, this can be very powerful for encouraging students to engage in discussion and critical thinking as all potential answers have some value. The Bloom’s Taxonomy Teacher Planning Kit includes a useful list of question stems and terminology aligned with different levels of thinking skills and can act as a useful guide for writing multiple choice questions. Also, see our blog post on Effective online quiz design for some more great tips.

How can technology help?

Whilst TBL isn’t reliant on technology to work, there are a number of areas where it can enhance and improve efficiency for coordination and presentation of the associated activities, here are a few ideas and tools you may find useful.

  • Team formation: in order to optimise the effectiveness of learning, teams are typically formed of a balance and mix of skills and traits. An online survey tool (such as Qualtrics or Canvas Quiz) to be completed before class can provide an efficient way of coordinating and assessing suitability for teams.
  • Quizzing: there’s a huge range of tools available for online quizzing, however, Kahoot is specifically designed for live-classroom use and includes a team-quiz mode. The new ‘Quizzes.Next’ feature for Canvas (currently in beta) includes a huge range of configurable options for quizzing, including the ability to assign different point values for each possible answer – Qualtrics also offers this functionality.
  • Application tests: student response systems such as Poll Everywhere or the more low-tech Plickers could be used to enable students to report back during application exercises. However, tools such as G Suite and Padlet offer lots of options for facilitating collaboration, evidencing and recording the teams’ decision making processes.
  • Peer Evaluation: this type of exercise can involve a lot of coordination and organisation to get right; from providing evaluation forms, returning feedback and collating responses. Luckily Teammates provides a free tool which is specifically designed to manage all of this for you.

Where can I find out more or get help with this?

The Team-based learning collaborative website has a wealth of resources on using this approach and is set up as an online community for TBL practitioners.

For Sussex staff – whether you’re currently using this approach, something similar, interested to find out more or would like help to develop your practice using these techniques then we would love to hear from you and would be keen to work with you. Please contact your school learning technologist or drop us an email at

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Posted in Active learning, Learning Design

Canvas highlights 4. Rich Content Editor

Canvas Highlights 4. Rich Content Editor

In this weeks ‘Canvas Highlights’ we take a look at the Rich Content Editor. This represents the set of uniform tools which are available across the Canvas system when creating and editing your content; from entering text to inserting graphics, maths equations, multimedia based content and more.

Typical of Canvas, a simple, but intuitive and efficient workflow required for a great user-experience is at the heart of the rich-content editor.

Canvas includes all of the typical features of a rich-content-editor, such as the ability to add basic text-formatting, change font-size and colour, produce data tables, insert web-links, images and video content. It also includes a number of unique features for creating bespoke educational content.

Notable features:

  • Side menu for quick access to inserting web-links to existing files, images, activities and assignments in your course.
  • Integration with Flickr repository. Search and insert creative commons licensed images from the Flickr repository without having to leave your Canvas course.
  • Add audio-visual content by creating on-the-fly recordings directly from your microphone or web-cam.
  • Ensure that your content is readable, presentable and user friendly to all of your students with the in-built accessibility checker.
  • Create maths equations using the graphic menu of symbols or by typing LaTeX into the editor.

For more information on the rich-content editor see also the Canvas community help pages for an in depth look at how to make the most out of this essential and powerful tool in your new VLE.

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Posted in Canvas

Supercharge your LinkedIn profile

During the first week of this term Technology Enhanced Learning teamed up with the Careers and Employability Centre to deliver the online bitesized course ‘Take 5: LinkedIn & your digital identity’ aimed at both staff and students. Here Tim Bradshaw (@TJBSussex), Careers and Employability Consultant, takes us through top tips for developing your LinkedIn profile.


Photo, headline and summary

When it comes to networking first impressions really do count – your initial appearance on LinkedIn will decide whether you get taken seriously or not. To find out more about making your photo, headline and summary work for you, click through this Slideshare presentation. While it is aimed at students and recent graduates, the main points can be usefully adopted by anyone who is new to LinkedIn:

The differences between a LinkedIn profile and a CV

Is there still a place for a CV? In a word, yes! While LinkedIn can be an integral part of job-seeking, the CV is still the primary document for applying to roles which don’t require an application form to be filled out. We would recommend that, whatever stage you are at in your career, you keep your CV regularly reviewed and updated.

Here are a few differences between your profile and a CV:

CV LinkedIn Profile
Length defined by paper formatting – should usually fit on equivalent of two pages of A4. Length defined by content & whatever is appropriate to showcase your talents and achievements without losing the reader’s interest.
Usually text-based (with some exceptions for creative roles). Great multimedia potential – upload/link to presentations, videos.
Doesn’t include a photo (for use in the UK). Should always include a photo.
Primary purpose is job-seeking. Primary purpose is networking.

Personalising your URL

Once you have your profile looking good, you will want to make it easy for others to find it. You don’t want people to have to copy or remember a long string of meaningless characters from a CV, business card or email signature. Compare these two urls:

Changing the default address you have been given is simple, but difficult to find on your own. Follow these steps (bear in mind that the LinkedIn interface changes rapidly, so this web page was current as of February 2018, but may become out of date after that):

Customising your public URL

Building and using your network

Writing an effective profile is only the first step in using LinkedIn effectively. The fundamental purpose of LinkedIn is professional networking – so you need a network.

If you already have contacts you would like to keep in touch with, this could be a great platform (assuming your contact is already on LinkedIn). It is simple to search for people by name in the search box at the top of the page, and send a request to connect. Whether you are approaching an existing contact or someone you don’t yet know, it is important not to use the default wording in the connection request, but to personalise it.

The Alumni Tool

Are you looking for people to connect with? Are you unsure where to find them? The Alumni Tool could be perfect for you. With over 70,000 past and present Sussex staff, students and alumni on LinkedIn, there is bound to be someone from Sussex who you’ll want to connect with. Just click on the Sussex logo on your profile, or look for University of Sussex in the search box at the top, to get started. As above, it is important to personalise the connection request.

This video explains how to make best use of the Alumni Tool:


Another great way to explore your interests and build your profile in your field of work (or the field you’d like to enter) is to join and participate in Groups. Like Facebook Groups, these are for like-minded people to discuss and share new ideas, queries, etc. Many of the best Groups are closed, but don’t worry if you are a student or inexperienced in this area – you are likely to be accepted if your profile shows that you have a genuine interest.

Once you are a member, do join in discussions – even better, start one yourself. If you don’t have something new to share, you could ask a question. Active groups will often generate useful answers to your queries – a great way to network if you are unsure where to start. Once you are interacting with Group members, remember to connect with them as well. Find out more about Groups from LinkedIn.

LinkedIn at Sussex

Sussex students, PhD researchers and recent graduates have the opportunity to book appointments with a Careers and Employability Consultant. These appointments can be booked up to 2 weeks in advance and there are also some on the day appointments which can be booked from 9am on the day. Login to CareerHub to book an appointment.

If you’d like to use LinkedIn with your students or to develop your teaching please contact

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Posted in digital skills, Technology Enhanced Learning

Canvas highlights 3. Peer Assessment

Canvas Highlights 3. Peer Assessment

Continuing our Canvas highlights series, this week we are looking at peer assessment. In Canvas it is possible to set ‘Assignments’ to enable students to mark and review each other’s work. In addition, the ‘Discussion’ tool can be used to enable peer assessment. As with quizzes, peer reviewed assessments can be scheduled to open and lock at certain times and can be assigned to multiple groups, allowing for reasonable adjustments or to organise students by seminar or workshop groups. These peer reviewed assignments are quick to set up and the many different settings allow you to tailor the assessment to your module.


Peer assessment in Canvas


Notable features:

  • Anonymous submissions and reviews/marking
  • Tutor-created rubrics to guide student marking
  • Automatically or manually assign peer reviewers
  • Multiple submission formats allowed – any file type, website URL, paper submission, no submission (e.g. presentations)
  • Tutor has final say over students’ marks

There are many ways in peer assessment can be used within teaching, both for summative and formative assessment. One idea would be to ask students to submit a draft or shorter essay midway through the term and ask them to mark each other’s work against the module’s assessment criteria. This would enable students to get to grips with the criteria prior to their assessment, provide them with useful feedback to take forward into their final assessment and would give them valuable writing practice. Alternatively you could ask students to mark each other’s presentations during face-to-face teaching sessions. In this case, providing students with a rubric would help to guide their marking and would standardise the type of feedback that students receive.

If you would like to learn more about the peer assessment features in Canvas see the following FAQs:

We have a dedicated Canvas section on the TEL website ( and you can subscribe to this blog or follow us on Twitter (@SussexTEL) to receive all our Canvas news and information, including training for all Sussex staff.

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Posted in Canvas

G Suite – to share and collaborate on documents and presentations online

(Image attribution: Photo by Headway on Unsplash)

Microsoft Office is a suite of programs that I’d imagine most people have encountered, whilst it’s a good suite of programs and all University of Sussex staff have access to a full licence (details on the ITS website ), it is not the only option.

G Suite is a collection of programs created by Google, which is free to use. If you already have a Gmail account then you will have access to G Suite, otherwise you can sign up using any existing email address. There are three main programs; Google Docs, Google Slides and Google Sheets that are alternatives to Microsoft Word, Powerpoint and Excel respectively. Read more ›

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Posted in Mobile learning

How do you create stunning visual content for free? Adobe Spark is how.

Adobe Spark

There are times when you want to have complete creative control over the content you create, and when you are able to spend time on making the perfect image, video or portfolio. There are also times when you need to be able to produce something that looks great in a fraction of the time.

Adobe Spark is for those of you who need great looking results quickly. The three tools, Post, Page and Video, cover most content types, removing the technical barriers and getting you straight to the result. Below we’ll take a look into these tools for quick, easy and free content creation. Read more ›

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Posted in App review

Canvas Highlights – 2. Groups

Canvas Highlights 2: Groups
Canvas provides lots of opportunities for students to learn together. One of the features that enables this is Groups. This post provides a brief overview of Canvas Groups and suggests some ways in which teachers and learners may want to use them.

Groups and Group Sets in Canvas

When an instructor creates groups in Canvas they can gather together a number of groups in a Group Set. For example, you might have students working on group presentations, so a Group Set called ‘Presentation Groups’ could be set up containing 10 groups of students.

There are several ways that Canvas enables the creation of groups by tutors (instructors).

  • Automatically create groups: choose how many groups you want and Canvas will create them and divide the students between the groups.
  • Manually create groups: create a group and drag and drop students’ names into it.
  • Self sign-up: Set the number of groups required, or the number of members per group and let students choose which group they want to join. This would be ideal for group presentations.
  • Student created groups: Students can create their own groups in Canvas.

Whichever way you choose to create groups there is an option to assign a group leader. This can be by choosing a particular name, making the first student to join the group the leader, or by randomly assigning a leader. Group leaders are able to edit the group name and add or remove members.

All activity within groups on a course can be viewed by the instructors (tutors) and administrators. Read more ›

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Posted in Canvas

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We are the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

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